Fort Lonesome Was No Picnic

If you know someone with a unique name like Beglasia or Hazelwonder or Plutochose, today (March 3rd) is the day to celebrate. It’s National Unique Name Day, and here at Florida Memory we’re thinking about unique place names across the Sunshine State.

Hillsborough County, for example, is home to the great port city of Tampa, but it’s also home to a variety of smaller communities with some very unique names. From Wimauma to Welcome to Reason to Balm, we’re fascinated with these local place names and their origins. To celebrate National Unique Name Day, we’ve selected two communities for a closer look: Picnic and Fort Lonesome.

Excerpt of the Florida Department of Transportation's Official Highway Map showing the location of Picnic and Fort Lonesome in eastern Hillsborough County (2014).

Excerpt of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Official Highway Map showing the location of Picnic and Fort Lonesome in eastern Hillsborough County (2014).

Picnic has been showing up on Florida maps at least since the 1880s. A former resident, Mrs. Bernice West, once told columnist Nixon Smiley of the Miami Herald that the settlement had once been called Hurrah, just like the Hurrah Creek that flows into the Alafia River near the site. West explained that the name “Hurrah” wasn’t meant to mean the cheer, but an Indian word with a different meaning.

At any rate, Hurrah acquired a neighbor sometime in the 1870s or 1880s called Picnic. Local historians explain that Picnic got its name from the local habit of having picnics and fish fries on the flat land lying at the convergence of Hurrah Creek and the Alafia River. It is unclear whether Hurrah and Picnic existed at the same time. By 1880, however, the name “Picnic” won out for the area’s new post office founded by George W. Colding.

The territory surrounding Picnic, Florida was engaged in two key industries in the early 20th century: turpentine and phosphates. At the start of this period, the community was surrounded by extensive tracts of longleaf pine trees, which could be tapped for their valuable resin. Several companies set to work extracting this substance from the trees and distilling it into turpentine.

Turpentine workers dipping resin from a collection cup (left) and scraping

Turpentine workers dipping resin from a collection cup (left) and scraping “cat-faces” (right). Photo circa 1890s.

This profitable business employed hundreds of local workers, but over time the area’s resources were depleted. As turpentine companies began selling off their land, phosphate companies moved in behind them to extract more wealth from under the ground. By 1930, the majority of Picnic’s residents were either farming or employed in the phosphate mines.

Hand mining phosphates (1900).

Hand mining phosphates (1900).

That brings us to Fort Lonesome, located just south of Picnic on County Road 39. Contrary to the name, there was never a fort there, at least not one called Fort Lonesome. There are several local legends explaining how the name came about, but the best explanation dates back to a serious crisis in the Central Florida citrus industry in the 1920s.

Mediterranean Fruit Fly (circa 1950s).

Mediterranean Fruit Fly (circa 1950s).

In April 1929, state officials announced that Florida was suffering from an infestation of Ceratitis capitata, better known as the Mediterranean fruit fly. The larvae of this pest burrow into the fruits of citrus trees and other deciduous trees, ruining it in the process. To combat the problem, the Florida Department of Agriculture cooperated with other state and federal authorities in an extensive program of eradication. Part of this program meant inspecting all vehicles traveling in and out of the affected area to ensure that no infested fruit left the region to spread the epidemic.

Florida National Guard personnel inspect a truck for fruit affected by the Mediterranean fruit fly (circa 1929). Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Florida National Guard personnel inspect a truck for fruit affected by the Mediterranean fruit fly (circa 1929). Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

One inspection station was located at what is now the corner of County Road 39 and State Road 674 in Hillsborough County, just south of Picnic. The National Guardsmen manning the station didn’t have much traffic to look forward to, as most of the industrial action had quieted down in this section by 1930. To express his feelings about his assignment, one of the inspectors allegedly hung up a sign reading “Fort Lonesome.” The spot has never been incorporated, but the Florida Department of Transportation still posts signs on State Road 674 marking its location.

What is the most unique Florida place name in your county? What is the origin of that name? Today is a great day to do some research on the subject. Need help? Visit info.florida.gov to learn more about using the resources of the State Library and Archives for your next foray into studying Florida history and culture.

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26 thoughts on “Fort Lonesome Was No Picnic

  1. My father his mother and his siblings used to wash their collards and turnips in Hurrah creek before taking them to market in Plant City. I think he said it was with a horse and buggy. Sorry to say their all gone now..

  2. Great information! Presently visiting this area and really like the country atmosphere. Hard to believe we are so close to major cities! The Picnic grocery store is at the corner of CR 39 and SR. 674. Could that building really be the original Ft Lonesome Inspection Station?

    • No, it is not even the original building. In the late 1920’s, Gus Haywood ran a little country store. Ran that store until around the 70’s. The new owners built the building that is there now. I have a pic of the original if you would like to see it, check out Taylors & More on Ancestry.com

    • The store at the corner of CR39 & SR674 is a replacement of an earlier store that they used to call “Booger Man’s Corner”. It was basically a “juke joint” and was a spot that your Mom and Dad would not want you to spend a Saturday night. The inspection station has been long gone.

    • No there is a convenient store right where Ft Lonesome is. I bought a Ft Lonesome hat there for a friend. He passed and I wish I had asked his girlfriend for it when he passed.
      Regards TheMojoMan (USTM 2 343775)

  3. My daddy and other family members were Baptized in Hurrah creek, and some of my family still lives in the area. I love that part of old Florida.

  4. There is still an area known as Hurrah. It is located between Picnic and Fort Lonesome. There is a Hurrah Baptist Church, Hurrah Cemetery and a park. It is very visible as you drive down Highway 39.
    There is a store at 39 and SR672 called Picnic. It sits on the prong of the Alafia. And I am sure there were many picnics there. And that is also where baptism of the nearby Little Union Church took place.
    My grandfather was a turpentine owner. Their property was in Picnic (just east of 39 and north of 672) it is now part of the Alafia State Park.

    • My Great Grandfather, Rev. Pinckney Orr Miller was founding pastor of that church there and is buried behind it along with my Great Grandmother Annis Olympus Marlow and their son Eustis Miller who drowned in the Peace River when he was 21 years old. It’s said that Eustis was swimming and had a seizure.

      There used to be a forest tower there also. Growing up we always called it Picnic.

  5. My daddy William Arthur Joiner, Jr was born in Ft Lonesome. He is now buried in the cemetery at Hurrah Baptist Church.

  6. Live in sun City Center and have kayaked in the Alafia River often.I launch near the “bridge to nowhere. I call it that because it spans the river east of the store(?) and goes from the rutted dirt road ending to a pasture on the opposite side of the river where a fence prohibits traffic even if there was a continuation of the road. This area is now claimed as a state park with a $2.00 parking fee.
    Paddling on this part of the river is very relaxing trip and there is considerable wildlife to view, including gators.

  7. In high school, (graduated from Plant City in 1982), I worked at the “original” Fort Lonesome grocery store. A family, last name, Williard? Willyard?, owned Fort Lonesome and also the Wimauma Grocery store. They built the new concrete building. My family lived just down 674 about 1/4 mile…..the house is gone and the land has been mined and reclaimed. ….it will never be the same and that saddens me a bit!!! Wonderful memories tho and I still have plenty of family in the area!!!

    • Yes, it is sad that we’ll never be able to even imagine what the land looked like when our ancestors lived there. It’s all mined up and will never, ever be the same. Hard to imagine it was piney woods less than 100 years ago. 🙁

  8. I went to Wimauma Elementary in the ’80’s, and my granddaddy graduated high school there in the ’50’s. I grew up in the Ft. Lonesome/Balm area and frequented both the store on 39&674 and 39&672. My granddaddy was born in a little area just south called Willow Shores. His daddy was raised on an island in Cockroach Bay and grew up to be a tugboat captain in the port/Ybor area. They knew the Coldings, Haywards and the Willards as well as a few others. My great great uncle was old Doc Harris that ran his practice on the eastern outskirts of Wimauma, (there was a plumber or some sort of business that occupied the space when I was a kid) and lived on a ranch that was located in the Balm/Ft. Lonesome area (I think it was off of Carlton Lake Rd.) I have relatives and friends buried in the Friendship Cemetary east of Grange Hall Loop on 672. I grew up riding four wheelers in Shelley Mine and playing at Balm Park and riding horses out by Keene Rd. My daddy used to take me canoeing out at Hurrah/Alafia. This is super neat to see all this history and stuff. 🙂 Thank you!

    • I related to Doc Harris. And my Great Grandfather founded the Church and is buried behind it in Hurrah Cemetery. Love all this information.

      • OH, and my Grandmother was a Keene. I’m kin to all the old Florida Crackers. LOL I have several sites on Facebook. 2 are specifically for Florida Crackers and another is for people who are researching their Florida genealogy (Know Who You Are by Knowing Where You Come From). Wish I could post pictures in this thread. I have bunches.

        My Florida Cracker sites on Facebook are secret sites. We had some problems with trolls who think the word ‘Cracker’ means something else so if you’re interested, go to my Timeline and message me. And I can put you on the Florida Cracker sites.

  9. My great grandfather was John Colding a cattleman out in picnic. The family tree is thick out that way down through Lithia on into Riverview and Plant City. Would love to know some of you and possibly a get together of ancestors to that area if we could make it happen

  10. A Phosphater Lives Here

    Florida has few natural resources so when one as important as phosphate ore is being depleted and environmentalist are driving the industry from the state, the workers and the area around the mines are going to suffer.

    Here’s a poem about a phosphater.

    Down the oak shaded lane
    Near the rails for the phosphate train
    Lives a family known around
    For owning this little patch of ground.

    His daddy moved here in 1920
    From the hard rock mines near Lake City.
    At Fort White* they dug the rock
    With mules and slips;
    Picks and shovels and the like
    Were enough to break a man’s back.

    Piled it high on railroad cars
    Shipped it off to who knows where.
    Rain and snow (yes snow
    does fall in North Florida)
    Heat and cold
    Never missed a day it’s told.

    Then one day the word was given
    These mines are closed and so’s your livin,
    Best move South to the Imperial County
    Where pebble rock is found a plenty.

    Somehow they made the move.
    Not much it’s told, but kitchen table and some tools,
    Iron framed bedstead with pine slats,
    Feather bed and stuff like that.

    To the place that’s been home since,
    Not much to look at within the fence.
    But, it’s theirs and theirs alone
    This is the place they call home.

    Like his daddy he’s worked the mines
    Time’ve changed and that’s just fine.
    Kids have more than one pair of shoes
    Wife’s got clothes, red’s and blues.

    But his most proud possession, be it told,
    Is the old step-side chevy, Old Blue she’s called.
    Been lots of places in this truck
    And never once been stuck (well maybe not really stuck).

    Never gone far from home, once to Suwannee
    When a death of family
    Called all to celebrate life and pray<
    At the end of that dreary day.

    Now another death is near
    Closing the mines is what we hear.
    He’s been offered a job in the pits
    In South Carolina is where it sits.

    This day he sits with his old dog
    On the tailgate of the truck
    Looking at hardened hands
    From working in the muck.

    Finger’s stained from cigarettes
    Burned too close,
    Getting the last draw before
    The butt’s tossed.

    Listening to the rustle of wind
    In the palmetto scrub,
    A jay’s shrill voice
    Is a pleasure to hear.

    Seems to be saying
    Loud and clear,
    A Phosphater Lives
    And will Die Here.

    **
    * Phosphate ore was shipped down the Peace River to Port Charlotte in barges. Remains of one of the barges remains in the river up from Arcadia.

  11. I lived many years just west of FT Lonesome on Grangehall Loop, on property owned by my Grandmother Thelma Driggers who buried at Fellowship Church on 674. I frequently went to both the Wiamama an Ft Lonesome store when it was still the old building an gas station. I got to know Wade Willard who ran the Ft Lonesome store quite well. I was a young man back then and worked in both the citrus and phosphate industry. In 1976 I left that beautiful place and joined the military in Plant City. After retiring in 1998 and moving back I got to see the old place in all of its glory. I have many memories of my child hood there an remember many names that I was friends with, Aldermans, Coldings, Stanlands, Willard’s, Davis’s, Pollach’s, Lee’s. Holland’s, and many more. The old place is no longer there, but owned with in the family still, I recently went by there on the way home from the Strawberry Festival and was in total Aww as to the mine has totally ruined the area and you can even get to the old place even if it’s still there. I’m proud to say I still have memories and will have for life.

  12. Grew up less than a mile from Fort Lonesome grocery. We are all lucky to be a part of this history. We are all family, no matter if we share the same family blood, we share a family bond. Pollocks, Townsends, Gills, Coldings, Walkers, Stanalands, Willards, etc. Wouldn’t trade this life for anything.

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